The Discovery Expedition

1901 – 1904

Born in Devon in 1868, Robert Falcon Scott came from a seafaring family, making his first voyage at the age of 13. In 1900 he successfully volunteered to lead an expedition to the Antarctic, funded by the Royal Geographic Society and the Royal Navy. This expedition was named ‘The National Antarctic Expedition’ and scheduled to set sail in 1901, on the specially commissioned vessel RRS Discovery.

“I may as well confess that I had no predilection for polar exploration.”

Robert Falcon Scott, The Voyage of the Discovery

The Discovery set sail from Dundee on 31st July 1901,on course for Antarctica. The wooden sailing ship was 172 feet long and 34 feet wide, and unladen the ship weighed 458 tons. Ernest Shackleton, who would soon make a name for himself, was also present on this voyage.

The RRS Discovery

The RRS Discovery

Robert Falcon Scott

Robert Falcon Scott “Scott of the Antarctic”

Whilst the main purpose of the expedition was scientific, an attempt was made to sledge as far south into the continent as possible. A sledging party of Scott, Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton set out on November 2nd 1902. The men used dogs to pull sledges of supplies but they didn’t have experience with these animals, and had little success. Food brought for the dogs spoiled during the journey and the malnourished dogs became too weak to pull the sledges. Instead of using them for meat, they were left to run along behind.

The men had been travelling south for 93 days, reaching 82° 17’ south; 300 miles further south than anyone before them. On 31st December 1902 the group made the decision to turn back. Wilson was suffering from snow blindness, and was pulling his sled blindfolded in an attempt to ease the pain caused by light. Shackleton was suffering from scurvy, and all the men were malnourished. They eventually made it back to the crew of the Discovery and their base camp.

Above: Above: Ernest Shackleton, Scott, and Edward Wilson before their march to the South Pole during the Discovery Expedition, 2 Nov 1902

“We are as near spent as three persons can be.”

Robert Falcon Scott

The expedition continued carrying out surveys and scientific explorations. A ship called Morning Morning arrived from New Zealand, bringing supplies and exchanging crew members. Morning left in 1903 before the start of another Antarctic winter, with an invalided Shackleton on board.

The following year, 1904, Morning returned, along with another ship, the Terra Nova, to bring the expedition home. The Discovery, trapped in ice, was 18 miles away from the closest open water. The two relief ships were forced to break their way through the ice using explosives to reach the third ship. The whole crew returned safely, along with the Discovery, which is on permanent public display in Dundee to this day.

Upon his return Scott was heralded a national hero, and was awarded many honors.

This first venture south shaped Scott’s ideas about Antarctic travel, particularly his view of sled dogs. These views would later influence his ill-fated Terra Nova expedition, and his quest for the Pole.